EU mission tells Malta PM to quit immediately over Caruana Galizia case

Joseph Muscat has made serious errors over investigation into journalist’s murder, says Dutch MEP

The head of an EU mission to Malta has called on the country’s embattled prime minister to quit immediately amid anger over his handling of the investigation into the murder of the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

The Dutch liberal MEP Sophie in ’t Veld, who is leading the European parliament’s emergency fact-finding mission to Malta, said she was “not reassured” after meeting Joseph Muscat and his justice minister, Owen Bonnici.

“I think everybody recognises, including the prime minister himself, that he has made some serious errors of judgment and I would say that staying on longer than necessary is another error of judgment,” she told reporters in Valleta.

She said trust between the EU and Malta had been seriously damaged, and that Muscat had done little to allay concerns.

The main opposition party said on Monday it would boycott parliament until Muscat left office.

A small crowd of protesters threw eggs and insults at both Muscat and Bonnici as they arrived at government headquarters for Tuesday’s meeting.

“The EU must put pressure on him to go,” said Caruana Galizia’s sister, Mandy Mallia, who took part in the demonstration. “[Yorgen] Fenech wasn’t acting alone.”

Daphne Caruana Galizia

Malta's best-known investigative journalist was killed in a car bomb as she left her home in October 2017. 

Alfred Degiorgio, George Degiorgio and Vincent Muscat

Three men in their fifties arrested in December 2017 and then formally charged in July 2019 with Caruana Galizia’s murder, criminal conspiracy and the criminal use of explosives.

Melvin Theuma

A taxi driver from Birkirkara and suspected middleman in the Caruana Galizia case, he was arrested on 14 November 2019 in a separate money laundering case. He has offered to provide information he says he has on the journalist's death in exchange for a pardon.

Yorgen Fenech

A prominent businessman arrested onboard his yacht as a person of interest in the Caruana Galizia investigation on 20 November 2019. One of the journalist's final investigations was a leak of data from his businesses. He has previously denied any wrongdoing. On 28 November his lawyers deposited a letter in court to Malta’s president formally asking for a pardon in return for information relating to the case. On 29 November the request was turned down.

Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi

The Maltese PM's chief of staff and the tourism minister resigned on 25 and 26 November 2019 respectively. Caruana Galizia reported that they had taken control of secretive Panama shell companies soon after entering office. They deny any wrongdoing. Schembri was arrested on 26 November and released on 28 November. Police said that after an 'intensive investigation' they no longer felt the need to hold him.

Joseph Muscat

Malta’s prime minister who served between 2013 to 2020. He was criticised by opposition politicians for allowing Schembri and Mizzi to stay in their posts. Having said on 29 November 2019 that he would stay in the job until the investigation into the murder was complete, on 1 December in a televised address he instead announced that he would stay on until a new leader of his ruling Labour party was elected in January. The prime minister expressed “deep regret” for Caruana Galizia’s murder and spoke of the need for a “fresh page”.

Separately, Matthew Caruana Galizia, one of the journalist’s three sons, described the EU’s response to the scandal as “a huge letdown”, although he focused his criticism at the European commission, which is responsible for upholding European law, rather than MEPs.

“There has been pressure from the European parliament, but the response from the European Union has been hopeless, it has just been a huge let down,” he told the Guardian.

At a valedictory press conference on his last day in office as European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker declined to comment on the situation in Malta, claiming he didn’t have the details. Juncker said he was “highly concerned” about the rule of law in more than one EU country without going into specifics.

Matthew Caruana Galizia cited this as an example of the commission’s “abysmal” approach to Malta, adding he expected more from Juncker’s successor, Ursula von der Leyen, who took office on Sunday. “I expect them to come down like a tonne of bricks, especially after Juncker’s failures. He was abysmal.”

The Maltese political crisis is an early test for Von der Leyen, who is under pressure to show that she will not allow EU member states to undermine the rule of law.

The commission has called on Malta to establish an independent public prosecutor, after experts at the Council of Europe raised a red flag about the separation of powers.

That issue was discussed in a phone call between European commission vice president Věra Jourová and Bonnici on Monday, while Jourová told an FT conference that failure to implement judicial reforms could trigger an EU sanctions procedure, known as article 7.

During the call Jourová also said that the Caruana Galizia murder investigation had “to be brought to a conclusion without any political interference” a commission spokesman said on Tuesday.

Muscat has promised to stand down in mid-January to allow the Labour party time to pick a new leader. The Caruana Galizia family have called for an investigation into Muscat’s role after investigators alleged there were links between his chief of staff, Keith Schembri, and the man accused of organising the murder.

Schembri resigned last week and was then arrested and later released from police custody without charge. He is alleged to have links with Fenech, Malta’s richest man, who has been charged with complicity in the murder. Konrad Mizzi, who had been accused by Caruana Galizia of corruption, also quit his post as Malta’s tourism minister last week.

Muscat, Schembri, Fenech and Mizzi all deny wrongdoing.


Jennifer Rankin in Brussels and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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